There is a problem for the Englishman, perhaps for any speaker of the English language, in approaching the history of the Middle Ages, which is the immense barrier erected by the writers and artists of the nineteenth century. The Victorians were so obsessed by medieval culture that it is difficult to avoid seeing medieval England through their eyes. Everywhere one goes one sees their idea of the Middle Ages, in castles, churches, cathedrals, the decorative arts, heraldry and statuary. In prose and poetry, it is the Victorian idea of Arthur and his Round Table which occupies the mind. In the worlds of art, architecture, painting and design, we see the Middle Ages through a glass darkly, and the glass is very often Victorian and stained. In Leeds City Square there is a fine statue of the Black Prince, but it is a Victorian burgher's idea of the man and what he stood for.
Mark Girouard was well qualified to write this fine book. He worked for Country Life for many years, and is an authority on the English Country House. In almost twenty finely crafted chapters, he explains the many different ways in which the English explored and appreciated the medieval world in the nineteenth century. `The Return to Camelot' is an apt title, for he focuses on the re-invention of the idea of chivalry, which had fallen into abeyance in the preceding period. It is an enthralling and highly entertaining story, full of those eccentric characters for which the English have become justly famous. Read for example the story of Charles Lamb, who participated in the Eglinton Tournament in Scotland, but also devoted much of his life to writing the chivalric history of his guinea-pigs.Read more ›